No one -- absolutely no one -- will tell you starting your own company is easy. It’s supposed to be incredibly tough.

And most entrepreneurs learn the hard way: from their mistakes. While there’s nothing wrong with that method (failure is a great teacher), you want to save it for the big lessons.Free Download: The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Kit for Startups

Other lessons, such as managing the books and leading your team, can be taught just as effectively in the classroom.

To help you cut down on your learning curve as much as possible, here are the top free (or very inexpensive) courses online for running a startup, organized from introductory to advanced.

1. Creativity & Entrepreneurship from Berklee Online

  • Length: 4 weeks (3-5 hours/week)
  • Price: Free ($49 for certificate)
  • Level: Introductory

Want to harness your creativity? Take this course. It treats entrepreneurship as a creative process, applying concepts from the world of music creation (like observing, prototyping, and iterating) to career development and business innovation.

You’ll get to hear from famous entrepreneurs, innovators, songwriters, producers, creative directors, educators, performers, visual artists, and chefs.

2. Financial Analysis for Decision Making from Babson Online

  • Length: 4 weeks (2-4 hours/week)
  • Price: Free ($99 for certificate)
  • Level: Introductory

Anyone who wants to quickly get a grasp on the financial elements of starting a company should enroll in this finance course. It’s designed to “take the mystery out of financial analysis and help you make the right business decisions.” To that end, you’ll learn the various options for funding your business, how to determine whether a new product or service will be financially viable, and how to value a stock, bond, or company for business opportunities.

3. Becoming an Entrepreneur from MIT Launch

  • Length: 6 weeks (1-3 hours/week)
  • Price: Free ($69 for certificate)
  • Level: Introductory

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed up for this class on entrepreneurship. It features a combination of videos and exercises, covering:

  1. The most common myths about being an entrepreneur
  2. How to set goals for your business
  3. How to identify opportunities
  4. How to perform market research and select your target audience
  5. How to design and test your product
  6. How to plan your business logistics
  7. How to pitch and sell to buyers

4. Building and Leading Effective Teams from MIT OpenCourseWare

  • Length: Self-paced
  • Price: Free
  • Level: Introductory

Originally held in 2005, this one-week program from MIT’s Sloan School of Management is now partially available online.

Read the lecture notes and complete the assignments to get a crash course in leadership.

5. The Essential Guide to Entrepreneurship by Guy Kawasaki

  • Length: Self-paced
  • Price: $11.99
  • Level: Introductory

If you’re just wading into the waters of entrepreneurship, this course by famous entrepreneur and investor Guy Kawasaki will help you get your feet wet. It tackles the A to Z process of starting a business -- from launching and team building all the way to marketing and evangelizing your product.

With plenty of interactive exercises, anecdotal advice and real world examples, and engaging videos, Kawasaki’s lecturers are highly informative and entertaining.

6. The Complete Product Management Course

  • Length: Self-paced
  • Price: $11.99
  • Level: Medium

Understanding the product creation process will definitely come in handy when you’re running your own company. Whether you’re launching an MVP yourself or working with engineers, it’s critical to know how something goes from concept to spec, which tools to use, and how to find your market niche.

This course features case studies from NASA, Google, Zappos, and more -- grounding abstract concepts in plenty of real-world examples. It also teaches you the fundamentals of Agile (the methodology of choice in Silicon Valley right now) and even reveals the secrets of the product management interview process (so you can hire the right product manager when the time comes).

7. Introduction to Web Development: HTML

  • Length: Self-paced
  • Price: Free
  • Level: Medium

Is it necessary for entrepreneurs to know HTML? No: You can build a billion-dollar company without ever learning the difference between <p> and <br>. However, it’s definitely helpful -- not only will you understand the basic components of web pages, you’ll also grok how programming generally works. That’ll come in handy when you talk to developers (plus, you are less likely to get taken advantage of freelance coders!)

8. Startup School by Y Combinator

  • Length: 10 weeks (or self-paced)
  • Price: Free
  • Level: Medium

It’s incredibly hard to get into Y Combinator -- depending on whom you ask, the acceptance rate hovers around 1.5%. But getting into the online version of the accelerator? A lot more doable.

If you’re actively pursuing a startup, you’re eligible to sign up. Everyone (whether or not they participate in the program) will have access to online lectures and office hours, but participants will also get a peer group. This group is run by a Y Combinator alumni who provides weekly 1:1 consulting over video and email.

The 10 lectures feature famous members of the startup world, like Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, Box CEO Aaron Levie, and Facebook VP of Growth Alex Schultz.

9. Entrepreneurial Finance from MIT OpenCourseWare

  • Length: Self-paced
  • Price: Free
  • Level: Advanced

If you think you’ll be getting outside investment, I’d recommend this course. It tackles the main financial challenges founders face when funding their startups -- specifically looking at tech companies in the early stages. It addresses:

  • How much money can you raise? How much should you raise?
  • When should you get funding? From whom?
  • How do you come up with a reasonable valuation for your company?
  • How do you structure funding, employment contracts, and exit decisions?

The class also includes a deep dive into the world of private equity.

10. Free SEO Training Course: Building Sustainable Traffic for Business Growth from HubSpot Academy

  • Length: One hour and two minutes
  • Price: Free
  • Level: Introductory

Need eyeballs on your business? You need SEO. In this course, HubSpot Director of Acquisition Matthew Howells-Barby demonstrates how to evaluate your current SEO, develop and approach for your business, and identify specific areas for improvement.

A helpful workbook and 15 videos you can move through at your own pace make this course a valuable one you shouldn't miss.

11. Financial Engineering and Risk Management Part 1 from Columbia University

  • Length: 32 hours to complete
  • Price: Free
  • Level: Advanced

Are you a finance or economics nerd? You're going to love this class. It promises to help you begin to understand the "rocket science" behind financial engineering and view financial models with "a healthy degree of skepticism."

12. Private Equity and Venture Capital from Bocconi

Length: 12 hours to complete

Price: Free

Level: Introductory

When you're pitching your business to venture capitalists and private equity firms, it's important to have a firm grasp of their world. If you don't understand valuation or deal making, you'll lose respect and authority fast.

So, enroll in this course to learn how private equity investors finance through equity companies at different stages of growth, and how they deal with activities including scouting, valuation, and financing.

13. Effective Fundraising and Leadership in Arts and Culture from the University of Leeds

  • Length: 2 weeks
  • Price: Free ($99 for unlimited course access and a Certificate of Achievement)
  • Level: Medium

Fundraising for arts and cultural initiatives have never needed funding more, but the landscape can be difficult to traverse. This course teaches the importance of effective leadership through diversification of income streams.

Discover new leadership styles, change management strategies, and fundraising techniques that will set your business up for funding success.

14. Corporate Entrepreneurship: Innovating within Corporations Specialization from the University of Maryland

  • Length: Approximately 6 months
  • Price: Free
  • Level: Introductory

Want to become an entrepreneur without ever leaving your current company? That might just be possible. This course explores how to create new business opportunities within existing corporations. You'll learn how to overcome barriers and built partnerships to create new businesses or initiatives inside your company.

This course is designed for junior- or middle-managers who have the ability to start an initiative within their organization.

15. Branding, Content, and Social Media by The Ohio State University

  • Length: Self-paced
  • Price: Free
  • Level: Introductory

If an entrepreneur launches a new business and no one hears about it -- does it even exist? Well, yes. But it won't do anyone much good. This course is designed for entrepreneurs working in small- to medium-sized businesses who want to learn about branding, social media, content, and more.

You'll also dive deep to understand audience segmentation, messaging, and evaluation, to ensure the right people are hearing the right information about your business at the right time.

They say failure is the best teacher. But free and inexpensive online courses might be the next best thing (not to mention, better for your morale and wallet). I hope you find these ones useful.

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Originally published Jun 18, 2019 9:14:00 PM, updated July 19 2019

Topics:

Entrepreneurship